Retail consultant Robert Gibbs says the demand exists for more services on St. Armands Circle, but the area needs a facelift if it’s going to thrive as a national commercial district.
Gibbs was hired by the city in April to study the optimal mix of businesses in four areas: downtown, St. Armands Circle, the Rosemary District and the Martin Luther King Jr. Way corridor. At a series of meetings Monday, Gibbs presented his findings, as well as recommendations for how the city can improve the caliber of its retail offerings.
Within all four districts, Gibbs found, there was both an immediate and future demand that could support commercial growth.
Gibbs said there was a demand for an additional 256,500 square feet of retail space in the study area now, with that number growing to more than 300,000 by 2019. On St. Armands, the report says, there exists demand for 74,000 additional square feet of retail; over the next five years, the demand will be able to support another 6,000 square feet of retail.
To capitalize on that demand, Gibbs said the Circle has to make improvements. He said he was surprised by the lack of care given to landscaping in the area, and he also said the awnings and signage are outdated. He recommended the city update its design standards and create a fund to help store-owners improve the face of their buildings.
“The storefronts that are in St. Armands Circle are generally about 25 to 30 years out of date,” Gibbs said. “And that’s being nice.”
Gibbs used Third Street in Naples as a model to emulate. He said St. Armands Circle does have one aesthetic advantage: The buildings are already of the same caliber as other top-tier shopping districts.
Gibbs remembered the Circle standing out as impressive 30 or 40 years ago. With new awnings and paint, he believes they could return to that level.
“You had this beautiful character,” Gibbs said. “We believe that in order to meet your potential, you’re going to have to improve the looks of the storefronts to compete with the new mall.”
When the Mall at University Town Center opens in October, Gibbs said there will be short-term effects on business within the city. Still, the potential for growth he measured exists even after taking into consideration the business generated by the mall. One of the biggest impacts caused by the mall, he said, is that it will cause consumers to have a higher standard — which he said ties into the need for updated storefronts.
“People fall in love with the mall, then they get tired of it,” Gibbs said. “You will see an impact, but the demand will still be there for additional retail.”
Those in attendance at a meeting held on St. Armands said they agreed with Gibbs’ recommendations but said they’ve been struggling for decades to implement the type of improvements he outlined.
Diana Corrigan, executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association, said people on the Circle have been trying to keep up with landscaping, but declining levels of service from the city have made that a steep challenge. In addition, the large number of landlords makes it hard to establish any standard for storefront design or caliber of tenants.
Eric Seace, vice president of operations for the clothing store Dreamweaver, said he hoped Gibbs’s report would make city leaders prioritize keeping the Circle in top shape.
“They need to realize the importance and draw of St. Armands Circle to this area,” Seace said. “If St. Armands Circle goes down, how is that going to impact the rest of the city?”
If they could generate the will to make significant improvements by next year, Gibbs encouraged leaders to hold a “re-grand opening” of the Circle in September 2015 to wow seasonal residents and draw attention back from the mall.
AT A GLANCE
74,176 — Square feet of additional retail development St. Armands Circle could currently support
$30.1 million — in new sales additional restaurants/retail could generate
9,700 — Population of the Circle’s primary trade area
80,302 — Square feet of restaurant and retail development St. Armands Circle could support.
$36.8 million — in new sales additional restaurants/retail could generate
10,000 — Projected population of the Circle’s primary trade area
57.1 — Percent of local tourists who have visited St. Armands Circle.
Before consultant Robert Gibbs was hired, members of the Downtown Improvement District (DID) and St. Armands Business Improvement District (BID) raised concerns about the growing number of restaurants in those areas, for fear that eateries would eventually dominate the retail districts.
According to Gibbs, however, the No. 1 area of demand for both downtown and St. Armands Circle is restaurants. Gibbs said the demand exists for an additional 29,800 square feet of restaurants downtown, and an additional 13,900 square feet on the Circle.
Mark Kauffman, one of the members of the DID who was interested in limiting the number of restaurants, said he didn’t expect Gibbs’ study to show that room for growth. Still, he said he would approach the report with an open mind.
“I’m surprised there’s such a demand downtown and in the Circle (for restaurants),” Kauffman said. “But we’ll listen to the consultant and abide by his recommendations.”
Gibbs said if people on the Circle were interested in preventing the shopping district from becoming an entertainment district, it might make sense to try to limit the growth of restaurants even if the demand for it existed. If that’s what people want, however, they need to do something to prevent restaurants from filling that demand.
Gibbs suggested a recruiter, possibly a city employee, should work to attract desired business types to fill vacancies in the area.
“If you don’t want restaurants, you’re going to have to take actions to encourage more clothing, home furnishing or other shops,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs measured demand by examining the demographics and projected growth of the districts’ “trade areas” — the places from which each district is most likely to draw customers from. Between rising tourism numbers, growing residential areas and demand from office workers, Gibbs said Sarasota is a healthy retail climate.
“We’ve felt very encouraged with this study,” Gibbs said. “It’s been much stronger than we expected.”
Top money makers per square foot
The study estimates the following businesses could generate the most sales per square foot on St. Armands Circle:
1. Pharmacy $580 $650
2. Grocery $575 $645
3. (Tie) Custom spirits & fine wine
stores and bars, breweries and pubs $540 $605
Contact David Conway at email@example.com